Rugby Legend Phaidra Knight Interviews USA Star Mari Wallace

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Phaidra
Mari & Phaidra

A perennial Team USA Eagle, Phaidra Knight is one of the most recognized names in women’s rugby. Her home club is the New York Rugby Club. Today, she chats with Team USA star, Mari Wallace.

PK: Mari, thanks for taking the time to share you with the world. This is gonna be good!
MARI: Werd. You know I love to talk with fellow rugby evangelists!
PK: How is life up in Boston?
MARI: Yeah man! I like to take my spring season off, now that I’m old and the weather here keeps us indoors for practice. I’ll be back on the pitch with my Beantown homies in the fall. Just went to my first high school girls practice, so we’ll see where that leads me. I can’t wait to spread the rugby love to the babies of the world!
PK: Where did you grow up and what sports were you involved with?
MARI: Wait, am I actually grown up? Born in San Diego, but most of my youth was spent in a small town in the San Francisco Bay Area called Benicia. We were one of those teeny towns that had a parade down main street for every holiday on the calendar. I played a lot of soccer, but also dabbled in volleyball, softball, and pole vaulted in high school.
PK: Were you super competitive then?
MARI: Are you asking if I’ve always wanted to be a WINNER? Yes. But mostly I was bouncing off the walls and needed a lot of activities to stay busy. My town wasn’t known for its sports accolades, so I had to commute to play competitive soccer during high school. I’ve always liked to challenge myself I suppose.
PK: When did you first find rugby?  What position did you start out in?
MARI: Must have been my first week at college, at UC San Diego. Saw a flyer about tackling, and thought I’d check it out. Stepped onto the pitch that first practice, and wondered why I ever bothered to waste time playing other sports before! I think I was a flanker, and prop mostly.
PK: When and what led up to the start of your USA Team journey?
MARI: Southern Cal was a tiny territory with a lot of heart and – lucky for me – not enough numbers for their all-star team. They let me come play with them at the regional tournament and I got clobbered all over the place! This was before So Cal even had an U23 or developmental squad. Old School! Eventually I got a few invites. I was in the senior Eagles pool when I was a baby at UCSD but mostly just went to events and was amazed at how talented the rest of the women were. THOSE were the true ballers. But all I wanted to do back then was party with my homies, and didn’t consider the possibility of actually representing AMERICA. When I moved back to the Bay, and started playing for the All Blues and K-Flo [Kathy Flores; click for interview], I think things started to click for me. I just happened to be lucky that there was opportunity in the front row at the time, and slipped into my first tour just before World Cup 2006.
PK: Tell me about your  2 World Cup experiences: Good. Bad. And everything in between.MARI: World Cup is legit! The first time around I was still just having fun and don’t think I understood the 3 years leading up to it. My teammates back then made even more sacrifices than folks do today I think, as they had even less resources that we do now. It flew by for me, but at the end of it I knew I wanted us to achieve more. By the time WC 2010 had arrived, I understood what it meant to put in all of that work for another shot at the big stage. It’s hard to explain that pressure and mental toughness to players that haven’t beasted through those 4 years to leading up to WC. It’s the ultimate challenge. My favorite moments are always on the pitch, fighting the battle with my people. Of course there was that SICK foot tackle you made in the England game- HOLLA!
PK: Your future in rugby—any plans of playing higher level rugby again?  If not, what role do you foresee yourself in?
MARI: I love playing good rugby, but I also love playing recreational rugby. Wouldn’t it be great to do a bicycle-tour of fun rugby tournaments across the US, and whore out with hella teams? Swoon! Any interested folks should holler at me if they’re down. Other than that, I look forward to coaching. It would be dreamy to take some Bad News Bears team and help them to become competitive .
PK: What’s your take on the current USA Teams and the direction they are going?
MARI: Those chicks are HOT! I mean, they’re lookin’ good. It’s great to have fresh new talent and leadership in to shake things up. Now that there are so many college and youth programs coming up, the trick is going to be identifying the talent and providing them with as much opportunity to play as possible.
PK: From your perspective, in what area(s) is the most work needed to improve the popularity of women’s rugby here in the USA?  Do you believe that the success of women’s rugby is contingent on the success of men’s rugby?
MARI: I don’t think it’s a gender thing, though I think the women have an edge because our women’s program didn’t start centuries after other countries. We should think long term. I would love to see more women being dedicated and active with their local clubs. Having the previous generations support their clubs, and provide guidance is really crucial to their sustainability. If old girls volunteered to help out with tourneys or fundraisers, or even helping with administrative duties, it might help those clubs to retain talent and build membership. I’ve always appreciated our rugby sisters that laid the groundwork for what we’ve been able to do. True revolutionaries! Obviously, we need to help build the youth programs, but I think even targeting high school program development will have huge impacts on the popularity of the sport. It’s certainly not going to happen overnight, so we should all continue to be rugby evangelists. Imagine if everyone brought one non-rugby person to Vegas 7’s with them, or even a local tournament. Now imagine if that was an enthusiastic 7 year old, or high school kid. It’s just like how you’re supposed to bring fresh meat to church with you, to “witness” to those that haven’t seen the light. But let’s preach rugby instead of that other Bible stuff…
PK: Well, amen and thanks for enlightening us today.  I can’t wait to follow up with you on video down the road.  Hope to see you soon!
MARI: :  No problem. I look forward to seeing your smiling face. Hey, you got any lip gloss I can borrow?

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